Pres Kagame Kwibuka23 KGM

Remarks by President Paul Kagame at the 23rd Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi

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Let me start with the words the children were singing.

They started by asking, “How did we even get here?”. I think you heard it. It’s not a question one can answer right away, or even in a short time. But we will have to answer it.

To do so in a fitting manner, we have to answer it daily in what we do to build this country, so that it belongs to all of us, all Rwandans, and even others who visit or want settle here. Every day we should seek to answer this question.

Coming back to this day: To remember is a must. And in remembering, I would like to tell genocide survivors that they are not alone. They lost family. But there’s one family they didn’t lose—their country. Rwanda is the family of survivors. It’s the family of every Rwandan.

Reminding them that they are not alone is also part of answering “How did we even get here?”.

When you look back in history, as this was about to happen, when it was happening and afterwards, there are those who had a role in pitting people against each other. Countries, international organisations, individuals…

But there are others who did what they could, or had to do.

At the forefront, up to today, were some Africans. Also the African Union. Not too long ago, in the African Union, represented today by Moussa, the African Union Commission Chairperson, Africans stood up and said Rwandans shouldn’t continue to be targeted.

You remember the issue based on ‘universal jurisdiction’. There were long debates, where some countries who want to change history and shift responsibility for their role in what happened in Rwanda onto Rwandans, even those who survived. Africa, almost all the countries, stood up against that. I want to thank Africans for this, through the African Union Commission Chairperson.

As people were being killed, the United Nations had its own problems. The United Nations is difficult to define. it is used by countries who blame it when things go wrong, and take credit when things go right.

So when we refer to the United Nations, we should understand what it means. There is no country called ‘United Nations’. That’s what happened in Rwanda: What the United Nations wasn’t able to do, individual Africans tried to do.

That’s why we remember the Senegalese captain who refused to follow orders and did what he felt was right in his heart, because he saw that what was happening was wrong. This is why Ghanaian soldiers defied orders when they saw that what was happening was not right.

So you see, between Senegalese and Ghanaians, the solidarity that bound them is similar to what Africans displayed when they stood with Rwandans in the African Union.

And there are others here from different countries who saved people. Like the American who hid, fed, and fought for people, and who we recognised for the courageous actions. There are others in various countries in Europe, or the United States as I mentioned, and elsewhere, people who took personal initiative to fight what was happening.

It means that this problem we are dealing with is complex and difficult. Even though we can’t stop difficult things from being difficult, there are ways to solve what we can solve. We as Rwandans have the ability to do it. What we are unable to do, we leave aside.

When you listen to the discourse around the world now, it’s not about lives lost, but about playing with words. Semantics. Was it the genocide of Tutsis, or the genocide of 1994? They have gone into a search of words for what happened.

It’s no longer the lives of people, it’s now the words, the names, what do we call it? Human beings—I think we are good people, but at same time, when small things happen, we display our weaknesses.

There are those who now bring ‘improvements’. You can’t call it the genocide against the Tutsi, it’s the ‘genocide of 1994’, or the ‘Rwandan genocide’. They are struggling to be vague, as if being vague is very important also. Then somebody brings another improvement: Let’s call it genocide of Tutsis plus moderate Hutus. I mean…

I had problems getting into this debate because it’s absolute nonsense. Those deciding what it should it be called are the same who got involved in it. As if playing with words, with names, is of any substance.

We lost people. We lost over one million people. And it wasn’t a natural disaster. It happened through the hands of some people. And politics was the cause, whether local or international.

So how can people keep playing with words? They bring in experts. Experts to do what? Bring back people we lost? As Rwandans, we should not get involved in, or distracted by, this nonsense that is there every day.

Genocide has a definition, and I’m not the one who put that definition there. When you talk about the Holocaust, it has its definition, I’m not the one who put the definition there. If you have a problem matching the definition with what happened here, it’s because you have another problem. You need to address that other problem.

People were targeted here in Rwanda for decades. It did not happen in 1994; it happened over decades. Come on, you can’t have such a such short memory, those who try to be smart with definitions… Why should you be afraid of saying things as they are? That Tutsis were targeted for decades here in Rwanda is a mystery? Is it something that was not known? You have to have a problem in order not to see that.

But as Rwandans, we have to live our lives and forget about this nonsense. And the way to live our lives is to come to a point, as where we are now, to say: Yes, a section of the people of this great country—call it small if you want—were targeted. They were targeted for who they are. That’s what it is. So you can call it something else…

The second is to say: That happened; we failed to prevent it. It happened; we couldn’t reverse it. But today we can do something about it. What we can do today is that it won’t happen again. People are not going be targeted.

For the future, beyond those of us here who aspire to build a foundation, if some mad people come, fifty years ahead—I don’t know how many; I am not sure about that. But I am talking about the present and the immediate future. We cannot have this again; absolutely not. This is within our means, today.

Forget about all those funny stories about Rwanda, about what we are trying to do today and all kinds of descriptions and definitions about us. Forget about that. That’s just nonsense. Rwandans, we are going to live our lives, and we are going to live our lives the best way we think we should live our lives. It doesn’t matter what someone else is thinking about.

But we are open to working together, for cooperation, for collaboration, to work with people. We need friends, we work with friends, we look for friends.

But when all that is said and done, we will have to live our lives, and these are our lives. They are not going to be managed by somebody else. Absolutely.

So I thank all who have been with us, in all this we have gone through. It has been a very difficult history and situation indeed.

For those who can decide later on that they need to change course and also be with us and we work together, they are very welcome. We welcome them. Including those who happily—it doesn’t matter how long it takes—come to recognise their failure and say it to Rwandans. We are happy and ready to move on.

For those who don’t want, and think they can change the course we are on, they are also welcome. But they should understand that they have a formidable opponent in us. They will never shake us out of our beliefs—the beliefs about our politics, about our lives, that belong to us and have meaning for us—they can do nothing about it. If they want anything they will find us ready for that.

Yes, it takes time. People recognise they have a problem they have to deal with. I am really happy, and I am sure Rwandans are happy, that we have moved on.

Even in recent times, with the Catholic Church—it’s not a secret. We have had back and forth, with people saying, you know, these are individuals who did this… But we have sorted the matter. I am happy and I am grateful and thankful to those senior people who have had a hand in it and who have helped to put us on a good course. It’s a good thing.

Well, there are others who are still struggling with trying to understand their responsibility and they are still on the course of trying to create problems for us around that. They have been doing that for the last 23 years now. But they won’t stop us making progress. They won’t. It doesn’t matter how powerful they think they are.

We have victims here, and they turn around and blame the victims for the problems they caused them—those who haven’t apologised. But they haven’t even recognised.

We are not asking for money. We don’t ask for money. There’s no money to compensate the lives of our one million people that were taken during this genocide. It’s the truth that we are after, the truth that allows people to live their full lives going forward.

So for the time being, we shall live with that. But there is always going to be a cut-off point. There is where a line gets to be drawn and you can’t just manipulate people’s lives as you wish. You can’t.

I think this is also something we got from this tragedy. The tragedy that took the lives of our people maybe came with a silver lining, and that is it made us better people. We have more solid beliefs, and the past is the past; there’s nothing we can do about the past. But there is always something we can do for the present and for our future. And we will do it.

So those people who were targeted will never be targeted again and even others won’t. Those who weren’t targeted in the past, won’t be targeted in the future. It’s about not targeting anybody in the future. Meaning that we are all Rwandans that deserve our country and our lives, just like everyone else in this world.

We look forward to maintaining the course on which we are, to rebuild our lives and our nation.

Thank you, Moussa, for representing our African continent that we are so connected to, and work with, and want to work with, not only to improve our country but, if we can do anything, even make a bit of a contribution to improve the lives of our brothers and sisters across Africa, count on us.

Thank you.

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